When will we stop treating women in sports as second-class citizens?
That question needs pondering, once again, in light of the horrifying stories of male coaches accused of abusing and harassing players in the National Women’s Soccer League.
It turns out that the premier league for women’s soccer in the United States — where stars from the World Cup-winning national team like Megan Rapinoe and Alex Morgan play — treats the legions of less-renowned players like pawns in a male-controlled game of exploitation and moneymaking.
Rather than a celebration of female empowerment, revelations in recent days show the league as yet another example of the low regard society holds for female athletes. And in this case, it appears the athletes tolerated and suffered abuse because they feared complaining would doom the only U.S. league they have.
The decision comes in the wake of a report that detailed allegations of sexual coercion and abuse by now former North Carolina Courage manager Paul Riley that spanned his tenure with multiple teams. Riley was fired from his post on Thursday.
Riley’s ouster was just the latest in a series of managerial dismissals, including Richie Burke from the Washington Spirit, Christy Holly from Racing Louisville and OL Reign’s Farid Benstiti.
Especially damning for the NWSL leadership were revelations that on multiple occasions the league failed to act on Riley’s alleged actions, thus endangering players. Earlier this year the league declined to act on an offer from Sinead Farrelly and Mana Shim — two of Riley’s alleged victims — to assist in investigating further instances of Riley abusing his position as manager.
Baird’s response to an email from Farrelly — which was revealed in a tweet from Orlando Pride and U.S. women’s national team forward Alex Morgan — was to state in part that, “We reviewed our files and I can confirm that the initial complaint was investigated to its conclusion. Unfortunately I cannot share any additional details.”
Earlier Friday, the decision was made to postpone this weekend’s slate of games, with Baird issuing a statement: “This week, and much of this season, has been incredibly traumatic for our players and staff, and I take full responsibility for the role I have played. I am so sorry for the pain so many are feeling.
“Recognizing that trauma, we have decided not to take the field this weekend to give everyone some space to reflect.”
Hours later, Baird was out of her job.